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Games, Literature

Foundering Valley – Chapter 27, Tuesday Night, June 10 – Spelunking Adventure

Chapter 27 – Tuesday Night, June 10 – Spelunking Adventure

 Grace, D-Stract, Hound, and Dawn gathered with the Trogs in the first large room inside the Cave 3 entrance. Some sort of lanterns high on the walls illuminated the area. They began selecting which gear they would need to go explore the crystal caverns.

Vapor, the little female Trog alchemist laughed at them. “Torches? You don’t want to use torches.” The adventurers looked at her in puzzlement, and surprise that she spoke the common tongue of humans, not of goblins. “Smoke, soot, bad air. We’ll give you something much better. Viper!”

The little male Trog alchemist approached carrying a large burlap bag. “Some of us see very well in the dark, others not so much. So we have these.” He too spoke in the human common tongue. He pulled four smaller bags out and passed them around. They sloshed like they held a liquid, but you could see through the sides of the bags. Inside each was a little clay rod, thicker than a finger.

D-Stract poked and rubbed at her bag. “What material is this? Transparent like glass, but flexible like leather…”

Viper laughed. “Reconstituted chitin – you know, bug shells. We dissolve it and cast it again using mineral spirits. It is far better than glass, if you’re bumping around in a rocky cavern, but treat these with respect – they can break if you’re rough with them.”

Vapor reached for D-Stract’s bag. “You start them like this.” She trapped the clay rod inside the bag and bent it – cracking it in two. Something swirled out from a hollow space inside the broken rod, and suddenly the bag glowed brighter than any lantern.

Grace whistled in amazement. “What magic is this?”

Vapor shook her head. “Not magic – alchemy. This is a mixture of lightning bug guts, phosphors, and hot rocks, mixed with special salts we dig up. The brightness will fade over a few hours, but there will be a low level of light indefinitely, thanks to the hot rocks.”

 Sniper, who had been leaning against a wall, stood up suddenly. “In other words, bring these back so we can reuse them.” He too spoke in common tongue. Good to know he could, they thought.

Hound nodded. “Thank you. We’ll be sure to bring them back. I think I know the way to the big crystal cave. Do any of you folk care to join us?”

Viper looked at Vapor. “No, we have work to do. We must process the herbs we collected today while they are still fresh. Another time.” He turned and looked at Sniper. “What about you?”

“What I do is my own business. My shift just ended.”

Viper shrugged and turned back to the humans. “You’re on your own then. Don’t go too deep, there are passages so far back in the mountains that no one has ever explored them. If you fall in a hole back that far, no one will be able to find you, let alone pull you out.”

Hound gave a little salute. “Fair warning. Thanks again for letting us explore.”

Vapor tried to suppress a smile. “Don’t listen to him – go as deep as you want. But don’t make the newbie mistake of loading yourself up on pretty quartz in the first big room. The best stuff really is deeper, where we’ve not been before.” With that the two alchemists disappeared down a north-bound side tunnel. Sniper, the last Trog in the chamber, tried to ignore them, putting on a clumsily show of examining his collection of crossbow shafts.

The two adventurer exchanged glances, then followed Hound and Dawn into a west-bound tunnel. Shortly they came to a huge chamber that glittered like the inside of a geode. Despite Vapor’s caution, they couldn’t resist picking up a few perfect quartz points each.

D-Stract looked around carefully. “Which way to the deeper passages?”

Hound pointed. “This way.”

As they stepped out of the crystal cavern going further west, D-Stract held up a hand and halted them. She peered out of the tunnel mouth, back out across the cavern, and whispered. “I’m pretty sure Sniper is following us. I have a plan, and I don’t want him to hear. When we get to an appropriate place, I’m going to need all of you to help. Dawn, I’m going to want you to scream a few times. Grace, it would be great if you can waste a couple silver arrows into the dark further down the tunnels. I’m going to throw my Trog lantern and hope it makes a spectacular mess. Hound, it would be great if you had something to throw other than your hammer.”

Hound smiled. “How about… rocks?”

D-Stract snorted and put palm to forhead. “Of course. I’m going to tell them a story about seeing a wolf, and some shadowy humanoid shape in the dark. I need you all to back me up, so that the Trogs waste their time searching down here, and not starting a war with the wolves – not just yet, anyway. Is everybody okay with that? It should give Flummox time to save some lives.”

Everyone nodded, so they proceeded on down the tunnel. Hound kept stopping to examine the walls, or chip away with his rock hammer. It was quite awhile before they came to another largish chamber. As they filed into the chamber, D-Stract turned to Hound. “Which way would it be to go deeper into the mountains?” Hound pointed. “Okay, that’s our target point. Everybody ready? Okay? Great. Dawn, that’s your cue.”

Dawn took a deep breath and screamed. The echoes were painful in the confined space. Grace’s arrows and Hounds rocks added to the commotion. D-Stract raised the lantern over her head and threw it as hard and far as she could with both hands. She turned and raced back up the tunnel, yelling. “Let’s get out of here!” Everyone followed, and Dawn kept up a series of screams as they went.

It was only a few dozen paces before they ran into Sniper, who hissed. “What’s going on?” Dawn fell silent, panting.

D-Stract held her ribs and pointed back the way they had come. “Wolves! At least one wolf, and something else.”

Grace nodded. “Something upright. It was dark though, in the shadows. I shot at it with my silver arrows, but I can’t tell if I hit anything.”

Hound shook his head. “I don’t think so. They backed away pretty quick. I was last one out, and I don’t think they followed us.”

Sniper hissed again. “We must warn the others. Wolves inside! They must know. Come with me!”

As they followed Sniper back up the tunnel, D-Stract turned and gave Grace a wink.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 Animus made a visit to Olivia’s apothecary around dusk, just before closing time. He emerged with a clay jar holding a poison paste guaranteed to knock out and paralyze anything short of an elephant. The later reservation seemed apropos, given the events earlier in the day.

He stopped by the inn to survey Spamwich’s dinner offering. It was some sort of meat pie in a fairly dry crust. He nibbled on one as he left, taking several more in his backpack against future needs. He really didn’t want to know what was in them, but he might be away a good while.

As he approached the South Bridge Gate, he was surprised to see it hanging wide open, despite the growing darkness. Doug was nowhere in sight. He shrugged; it was not his responsibility.

 His concern grew when he saw that the gate to the Withers was also standing open. As he approached, he realized something large and silvery was hanging from the gate. It was the tin man!

Animus rushed up. “What happened?” He examined the tin man’s back and saw he was simply stuck on a hook.

“Bloody’s minions! They all said that he was gone, and were now free to go wherever they wanted. I tried to stop them, but they grabbed my axe and threw it over there, then hung me up here. Now they’ve headed into town. Just now! Didn’t you see them at the bridge?”

Animus shook his head. “Must have just missed ‘em. Here, stand on my shoulders and we should be able to get you free.”

The tin man pushed himself up, wriggled free of the hook, then toppled over backwards, crashing to the ground. “Well, I guess that worked.” He got up from the ground, and carefully tested each of his joints. “No damage. So what should we do?”

Animus scowled. “I’m busy. You’re going to have to sound the alarm. How about you go get your friend the scarecrow – neither of you needs to sleep, right? – and then go find Flummox and explain the situation to him. He’s probably sleeping at the inn. He’ll know what to do. The undead can’t infect you, so you should be some help.”

The tin man gave a stiff bow. “I will do that. Thank you. Have a good… er, stroll.” He retrieved his axe and headed towards town.

Animus shook his head and headed towards the farmland, then turned left up Creek 2. Carefully he worked his way through the woods, his night sight allowing him to see the trail as clearly as if it had been day. Finally he climbed the last leg to where the creek emerged from the mountain ridge. There was a large grassy meadow, lined with trees, that ran right up to the mouth of Cave 1.

He chose a tree with a nice high notch and a good view of the cave and went right up it. A few deft strokes of his blade gave him a better view, and some material to arrange better concealment for his body.

He carefully hung a quiver with all his silver arrows on a branch in easy reach, then got the clay pot out of his backpack. Three arrows he dipped carefully in the paste, before returning the clay pot to safety. These he situated very carefully close at hand in the tree branches.

Animus then settled down into the half-sleep of the elves, eyes open and glittering in the starlight. It might be a long night.

~~~~~~~~~~~

  D-Stract and the rest followed the little green Trog through the crystal cave and on through more tunnels until he came to a largish chamber.

 Sniper turned and pointed to a recess in the wall. “Wait there.” He went to the center of the chamber and began pulling on a rope that hung down from the ceiling. From somewhere above a bell began to peel loudly through the caverns.

Shortly, a number of Trogs began to assemble. Sniper quickly brought the first of them up to speed as they arrived and alarm spread quickly among them.

D-Stract turned to Hound. “How can this be such a shock to them? I didn’t expect this much of a reaction.”

“I said the four cave systems were connected, but each zone is separated by a big heavy door, which I think they keep guarded. The idea that the wolves found a way around, through the deep tunnels, is what has them up in arms.”

D-Stract turned to Grace. “I don’t understand what any of them are saying now. You’re going to have to translate for me, via the monk’s spell.”

“Of course. Now hush and let me listen.”

When the chief of the Trogs arrived, he quieted them down and imposed some order on the ranks. He was the only one wearing metal armor, and carried two swords. He looked fiercely at the assembled Trogs. “Stoner!”

The ogre with a stone axe stepped forward. “Here, chief.” They were all speaking in goblin tongue, but Grace translated for D-Stract, and relayed what she heard via the Monk’s communication spell.

“Stoner, you were on guard with Strong at the cave mouth. Anything get through there?”

“No sir! Only those four.”

The chief glared at the four visitors. “Okay, Strong should be all right for awhile without you. Where are the rest from Cave 4? Lucifer?”

 A red-horned imp with a staff, and carrying himself with dignity, stepped forward and sniffed. “Leather Mama and the alchemists are going about their usual business, while you lot play at war – their words, not mine. Mohawk and Bandolero are on station at the mouth of Cave 4. I told them to stay watchful.”

The chief nodded. “Who has been watching the 3-4 door?”

 A goblin dressed in a loincloth, wielding a spear spoke up. “I had the duty this daytime. The door is barred and sealed. Nobody had come through when I turned it over to Woosey.”

“Go check the seals. If they are broken, bring me Woosey’s head. If not, send me Woosey and take over.”

The goblin bowed and scurried off along a passage to the south.

The last Trog, an orc with club and shield, shifted and looked around uncomfortably. “I wasn’t on duty.” Everybody looked at him, but nobody said anything. “I just heard the bell, so I came.” Still no one spoke, and he backed behind the others.

 A somewhat chubby figure with greenish skin came out of the south passage. He didn’t fit any obvious type – perhaps he was a goblin/kobold cross. “What’s the riot, Chief?”

“Woosey. Have you been guarding the 3-4 door since you relieved the goblin?”

“Sure, boss.”

“Are the seals intact?”

“Sure, boss.”

“Did you fall asleep?”

Woosey looked stricken. “Well, I… yes. But I had my back to the door! Nobody came through. Not nothin’.” The chief stared him down, but he just stood there shivering and shaking his head. “Nothin’. Door’s shut tight.”

The chief straightened up. “All right then. We are five, if you’ll join us Lucifer. We need to search the back tunnels and find how the wolves got in.” Lucifer just nodded.

The chief turned to the humans, and spoke in the goblin tongue. “You must go.”

Grace stepped forward. “Is there anything we can do to help?”

The chief stopped to consider. “No, you must go. Hound, I trust you know the way. You have never betrayed my people.”

“Yes, sir. I mean, no sir. I’ll make sure we all exit the caves right away.”

The chief turned away, and Hound ushered them back to the entrance chamber. There they left two of the Trog lantern bags, and headed outwards toward Strong, carrying the third.

Strong the troll lay fully across the entrance, possibly dozing, but he rose up when Hound hailed him, and let them pass.

They headed across the grass, back down the stony switchback by the light of the new risen moon, and followed the creek down toward the nearest farmhouse.

D-Stract smiled. “Well, that should keep them busy for quite awhile. Now it’s up to Flummox.”

 As they approached the farmhouse, Fetch greeted them with barks. Woody came to their rescue, and the Autumns found them places to sleep for the rest of the night.

~~~~~~~~~~~

 It was nearly midnight when the half-moon rose above the town enough to illuminate the grassy space in front of Cave 1. Animus stirred on his perch, and soon was rewarded with several figures emerging from the cave.

 First came the brindled wolf that Animus had seen in the pack, earlier that day. Two adult sized figures came out walking on two legs, one bluish-gray in the moonlight, one brown. Three smaller figures scampered past them, mostly on all fours, but occasionally rising to two legs in their haste to get by. One was gray, two were brown. At a word from the first adult, the brindle began patrolling around the area. The smaller figures spread out and began a puzzling game that mingled silence and yips of joy. Soon it became evident that they were hunting gophers, hiding in a network of small holes, or perhaps some other small rodents, which they consumed with much gusto. The adults called back and forth to each other with short sentences, and sometimes spoke to the youngsters, but they in turn only growled, howled, yipped, and barked.

Animus glanced at the silver arrows, but instead nocked one of the regular ones he had poisoned earlier. Waiting for an opportune moment of excitement up on the grass, he let fly at the brindled wolf just as it came near his tree. The wolf collapsed, thrashed briefly and held still. “Huh. It worked.” Animus quickly nocked another poisoned arrow and waited for a reaction.

Shortly, the bluish-gray adult with long arms approached the still wolf cautiously. Animus could see that it sported enlarged claws and teeth, and extra hair, but still had an essentially humanoid form. It came to the downed wolf, saw the arrow, and looked up. Animus let fly again, taking it full in the chest.

The adult clutched at the arrow. “Rudy! Get them out of here!” He then collapsed much like the wolf had done.

The other adult hesitated, staring at the first. “Delft? What happened?” The youngish brown one with huge white teeth sprinted for the fallen Delft. This snapped the adult out of his indecision. “Back! Into the caves!” He swatted the little gray one, who took a tumble, and two of the little ones raced back towards the caves. The small brown one reached Delft’s body and started worrying at his leg. Animus took aim with his final poisoned arrow, and he too fell. “Spud! Oh bog!” The adult followed after the two young ones, and disappeared after them into cave.

Animus grabbed his silver arrows and dropped carefully from the tree. He approached the brindled wolf first. Its breathing was very shallow, and blood was flowing freely. “Just a regular wolf.” He drew his knife and cut the wolf’s throat and watched it bleed out. The chest no longer rose and fell. He took an ear and the tail to be sure, stuffing them into pockets. He then approached the other two.

Parts of the arrows were lying on the ground. Puzzled, he picked some up; they were not so much broken off as dissolved on the ends. Their wounds were no longer bleeding, in fact they were already closing up. Working quickly, Animus got out rope and first secured their hands and feet, then proceeded with a more secure hogtie. He looped a rope around the adult’s neck and tied it to a tree. Finally he approached the youngster with a loop, who was already beginning to stir. He tried to get the rope over its head, but it jerked and bit at the rope.

“You don’t want to get bit there, Mister.” Animus whirled around.

The adult had somehow managed to get into a sitting position and was looking at him calmly. “No sir, you’d catch what we’ve got.”

“You’re Delft, are you not?”

Delft tried to nod, but was constricted by the ropes. “Yep. Don’t think we’ve had the pleasure of meeting, though.”

“Call me Animus. I’ve heard of you. This is Spud Autumn, then? What’s the deal?”

“Well, if you’ve heard of me, you know that Rudy and I tried to rescue the three scouts that the wolves took.”

“But, they were, what – 8, 9 years old? Why don’t they talk like you?”

Delft tried to shake his head. “The kids were too little. You don’t understand the changes the wolf blood makes. Better hearing and smell, a sense of power, and the hunger – always this horrible hunger. For someone not yet… ah, ‘socially mature’? It was too much. They went feral. We are trying to keep them safe, but they’re pretty wild now.”

Animus looked at him appraisingly. “You seem sane enough. Come back to town with me.”

“No way! They chased me out of town once, I’m not going back.”

“The vermin problem has been dealt with. I helped Gorbag catch two of them, and the rest – well, some sort of mousling cops showed up and have them under control now.”

“The ‘rest’ of them? How many of the rats are there in town now?”

Animus thought a moment. “Ten, I believe. But really, the threat is neutralized. You could go back. They’re trying to come up with a cure for your condition as we speak, back in the lab at the castle. I think they’re making progress.”

Delft tried to shake his head. “It’s not just the rats. The people don’t want me there either. As I underwent the change, that became really clear. My place is here with the kids. Maybe you can take him back, and lock him up somewhere safe?” He tried to toss his head at Spud, but ended up tugging on the rope, then slumping over sideways. He made a choking sound.

Animus stepped forward and removed the rope around his neck, and cut the lines that pulled his limbs behind him. “Hey, sorry about all that. Just trying to be careful.”

Delft stretched, though his wrists and ankles were still bound. “No problem, I’d do the same. What do you say, can you help Spud there?”

“Sure, I’ll take him back.”

“Pity you can’t get all three kids out. Rudy and I would cut out then, too.”

Animus thought some more. “Maybe we can arrange that. Who else is there guarding them?”

“Well, wolves, mostly. I mean the real ones. Not full… uh, members of the blood, pack, if you will.”

“Three wolves left, I’m thinking, unless there are more inside. How many others?”

“You’re right, three regulars now. The only true wolf with bad blood they call the Dire wolf. I think he was the first of us – infected the Trogs in Cave 2 when they tried to tame him, and made the Trogs evacuate Cave 1 in a hurry. He’s the boss of the regular wolves now, and won’t put up with competition. When one of the regular wolves gets the blood and starts to change, he kills it and eats it. There are only three in the clan that used to be Trogs — Slasher, Chopper, and Basher. Slasher got hurt this morning – I think it was a silver arrow.”

Animus nodded. “One of mine. So how do we get the kids out safely?”

“Well, I think the three ex-Trogs are all up in arms after the raid, and are expecting trouble from that direction, so they’re up at Cave 2. The Dire wolf usually hangs out with Slasher – he’s hurt too, by the way – so I expect we’ll only have regular wolves keeping us in line down this way. They’re no problem – the danger is from the kids. They really are wild, and likely to attack you on sight, since you smell like dinner.”

Animus thought awhile. “I know of a salve that might slow them down, as far as the smell goes. And I know where I can get some nets. I think we can manage something in a a day or two. Will Rudy help?”

Delft nodded. “You bet. I’ll explain it all to him.” Delft suddenly looked solemn. “You are going to let me go, aren’t you?”

Animus smiled grimly. “Depends. How do you feel about a little elf for dinner?”

Delft grimaced. “Yuck. I don’t eat people. Deer, cows, goats, chickens, even gophers if I have to. But don’t trust the kids, they don’t know the difference.”

“Okay then, help me rig up a safe way to carry Spud.” Animus cut the last ropes off Delft, who rubbed his wrists and popped up, full of energy again. Together they rigged a pole that dragged behind, from which Spud would be suspended, still tied and kicking.

Delft looked awkwardly at Animus. “I guess this is goodbye then. Unh, I don’t suppose you have anything to eat, on you?”

Animus laughed. “Depends on how you feel about Spamwich’s cooking.”

Delft smiled. “I remember that. The good thing about this disease is, you’ll eat almost anything. Almost.”

Animus handed over what he had, and headed back towards town, dragging the squirming Spud behind, while Delft literally wolfed down Spamwich’s supper offering.

“I’ll have to let him know that at least somebody likes his cooking.”

~~~~~~~~~~

 Flummox was roused by the urgent sending from Animus. “Bloody Minions heading your way.” He was slow to wake, though, and took some time splashing water on his face, then gearing up. As he approached the front room of the inn, he heard an argument in progress.

 Beryl was yelling at someone. “If you’re going to wake me up in the middle of the night for a drink, I bog well will see the color of your money.”

 The creaky voice that answered was easily identified as the undead Mr. Autumn. “Ain’t this here a tavern? Well, I’m here fer a drink. You know ma frens, you seen ‘em last time we was in here. They’ll cover fer me.”

“No. I don’t know anything of the sort.”

Flummox entered the room. “Beryl, I’ll pay for his drink. Here. Now, Mr. Autumn, just one drink, then you’ve got to go home. Okay?”

Mr. Autumn was slow to answer, and was interrupted by the sudden loud entrance of the tin man and the scarecrow from the street.

 The tin man’s boots rang out as he clattered across the floor. “There you are, Flummox! Animus sent us to find you. It’s terrible. Screaming and yelling. Horrifying.”

“Where!”

“Outside, at the shops.”

The scarecrow nodded vigorously, almost losing his cap, but for the threads that kept it sewn to his head. “We didn’t know what to do!”

Flummox glanced at Mr. Autumn. “Right. You stay here, and keep out of trouble, or no more drinks! Guys, if you see any undead, grab ‘em and hold ‘em. They can’t infect you.”

The three of them ran out to the street and turned left.

 Outside the bakery, Petunia stood in her nightgown, staring down the street. “She turned to them in a daze. “It was Gloss. She said she wanted to play, but Shadow spat at her. Then the screaming started. Down there.” She pointed mechanically at the tailor’s shop.

The three ran down the road, clanking and skittering as they went.

 Mrs. Ironborg stood in the door of the house, clutching her children. “That monster went after Downsie! How horrible!”

Flummox panted. “Which way did it go?”

Mrs. Ironborg pointed further down the road. Suddenly there came a crash from the apothecary. Mrs. Ironborg gave a little cry and pulled her kids inside, slamming the door behind her.

The three cautiously approached the apothecary. A voice inside was yelling. “Oh bog! Now look what you did! What a mess! Get out! Get out now!”

 Mrs. Autumn burst through the door and rushed at the surprised trio, who recoiled at her fury. As Flummox drew the axe from his belt, she shoved the scarecrow out of the way and pushed past him. She was running toward the South Bridge Gate, not very gracefully, when the back door of the inn flew open with a bang.

Turning they saw Mr. Autumn run by on the other side of the fountain. Right behind him came Beryl who shook the remains of a chair in his fist. “And don’t come back!” He noticed the trio standing in front of the apothecary and pointed at Flummox. “I’m holding you responsible for the damages!”

Beryl tried the door, which had locked behind him, and went stomping back around to the front of the inn in disgust.

 Chief Grief and Rita came running from the town hall. Grief was wheezing, so Rita rounded on the trio. “What’s happening? Why are you out here making noise after dark?”

Flummox looked at her and shook his head. “Lady, I don’t know where you came from, but we just scared off a zombie invasion. You better get your crew out and seal that southern gate, and let the Earl know what’s going on.”

Grief tugged at Rita’s shirt sleeve. “Let’s go get Caesar and his men to close the gate. Then we can send up a message to the Earl.” He looked at Flummox. “I’m sure he’ll want to call an inquest at Court in the morning. The Great Hall, everybody. Pass the word.” They turned, and Rita took Grief by the shoulder and helped him back towards the castle.

Flummox led his friends down past the market square, where there was much alarm and shouting amongst the entertainers, to the south gate, which stood wide open and deserted. He swung the gate shut and waited for the guard to arrive.

 Soon, Caesar ran up with Achilles right behind. “Out of the way, civilian. We’ve got everything under control. Return to your beds.”

Flummox snorted. “I feel so much safer now.” He turned to his friends. “I will see you two in the morning – at this inquest.”

~~~~~~~~~~

 Sapphire was vaguely aware of the alarms and excursions during the night, but was really too tired to react. It was a different story when her door slowly opened. She sat up in alarm and groped for her wand. “Grace? Is that you?”

 A dark shadow was framed in the door. “It is Gin-Tzu, mighty sorceress. You are needed.”

Sapphire glanced at Eeek, sleeping soundly. “Shhh! You’ll wake the baby. What is it?”

Gin-Tzu lowered his voice. “Get your gear. We go out on the water again, tonight.”

Sapphire frowned, but quietly collected her gear and went into the hallway. She began to change her clothes. “Are you Asians all crazy? What’s the idea?”

Gin-Tzu turned away and studied the ceiling as she dressed. “We are going to rescue the Prince. The crew of the Buccaneer has been on alert continuously for some time, and they should be getting sleepy by now. This is the perfect time to sneak aboard unobserved.”

Sapphire left her night things in a neat pile by the door and yawned. “Okay. At least you didn’t give me some crap about the stars aligning just so. Those guys are not the only ones short on sleep, though. Tell me the plan as we go.”

The plan, as it unfolded, was to take the Marsh’s fishing boat out again, under cover of Sapphire’s invisibility spell. They would take a position under the bowsprit where the four stealthiest Asians would climb into the rigging, board the ship, and free the Prince. They would then try to escape in the boat without killing anyone and thereby starting a blood vendetta.

 Four dark figures joined them at the North Bridge Gate, where a guard silently waved them through.

Sapphire looked at the four. “Who’s guarding the longboat?”

Gin-Tzu hesitated. “Long story, I’ll tell you later.”

 The first hitch came as they approached the fishing huts. Screetcher was already sounding the alarm before they arrived.

 Rushing forward, they saw Caboose, the undead hobo, standing in the fishing boat, throwing rocks at the dragonette, still perched on the nearest fishing hut, screaming its lungs out.

Gin-Tzu rushed forward, drawing his sword. “Ho there!” Caboose saw him coming and jumped into the water, thrashing through the water into the tall marsh grasses nearby. “That’s it, run away, ugly fish. We are not after you tonight.”

Sapphire called out to the Dragonette, and anybody else listening. “We’re just going to borrow your boat, again. We’ll bring it back, just like last time.” The dragonette quieted down and peered down at them like a vulture.

The four in dark cloaks climbed into the boat. Sapphire started to climb in too, then turned to Gin-Tzu, who was coiling up the tether. “The boat only holds six. What about the Prince?”

Gin-Tzu tossed the rope into the boat. “That’s why I’m not going. They need you, not my sword.” Seeing her surprised face in the moonlight, he smiled. “I know you will conduct yourself well, and with honor. Good luck.”

 The plan went well up to a point. The four climbed the rigging and melted into the shadows without being seen. Sapphire waited many long minutes, watching the sentries and wondering if something had gone wrong.

 A door opened somewhere with a creak, and the nearest sentry whirled around. A dark figure emerged, and the sentry drew a sword. With a cry, the Prince staggered to the railing and toppled over. The sentry rushed to the side of the boat and looked over.

Thinking quickly, Sapphire again summoned her illusion of the giant crab-man. This time it seemed to come up out of the water and engulf the Prince. Fortunately he ignored it and stroked towards the front of the boat, while the sentry called out and pointed, while more buccaneers appeared.

The prince came to the side of the boat and pulled himself up.

Sapphire helped him into the boat. “Are you all right?”

The prince gave a cough as he collapsed into the bottom of the boat. “You gave me a bit of a scare there, thought I was being eaten.”

Sapphire nodded. “That was the idea.”

“Good thing they warned me to expect anything. When I passed right through the sea monster, I guessed what was going on, and headed to the front of the boat like they told me to.”

Sapphire nodded. “Let’s move away.” She grabbed an oar and softly paddled the boat towards the opposite side of the ship. She let the illusion drop as they passed out of line of sight. She was too tired to maintain the invisibility spell either, and counted on darkness for concealment. Four shadows dropped off the inland side of the boat and joined them, dripping as they climbed in the boat. As quick as they could, they paddled along the shore and then concealed themselves in a patch of tall sea grasses. Soon they had drawn the boat up on dry land and clambered ashore.

Sapphire looked up and down the shore. “You five better head back to town. I’ll go tell Gin-Tzu how things went, and apologize to the Marshes – tell them where their boat is.”

Sapphire left them and cut through the tall grasses, heading north. “Maybe I’ll get a chance to sleep tomorrow.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

{LINK TO THE NEXT CHAPTER}

 

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